Types of HCW: proportions and hazards

Healthcare waste (HCW) is defined as the total waste stream from a healthcare facility (HCF).

75-90% is similar to domestic waste. This fraction refered to as healthcare general waste (HCGW) is made of paper, plastic packaging, food preparation, etc. that haven't been in contact with patients.

10-25% is infectious/ hazardous waste that requires special treatment. This fraction referred to as healthcare risk waste (HCRW) is the one this website focuses on due to the risks that it poses both to human health and the environment.


If these two basic categories of waste aren't segregated (separated) properly, the entire volume of HCW must be considered as being infectious according to the precautionary principle, hence the importance of setting up a safe and integrated waste management system !

Exposure to HCRW can result in disease or injury. The hazardous nature of HCW may be due to one or more of the following characteristics:

  • it contains infectious agents;
  • it contains sharps;
  • it contains hazardous chemicals or pharmaceuticals;
  • it is genotoxic;
  • it is radioactive.


Details about the different categories of HCW can be found further on.